THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Colt Jenson, 12, and his younger brother Bas, 10, had everything they could want until one night when a knock on the door changed their lives completely. Forced to suddenly move, they now find themselves living in a working class neighborhood even though their dentist father Rex makes a good living. As he has always done, and to make sure his sons meet the new neighborhood kids, he buys them all kinds of new toys, games, skateboards and his latest purchase - a very expensive BMX bike.
Sure enough , the bike attracts some neighborhood boys, including brothers Declan Kiley, 11, and younger brother Syd, as well as the neglected street wise Avery Price, 11, and thug-like bully Garrick Green, 12, Freya Kiley, 12, finds herself attracted to Rex Jenson, thinking he is the father substitute who will rescue her from a overworked mother with little time for her and a violently abusive alcoholic father.
When Rex has an above ground pool installed in his backyard, the attraction to hang out at the Jenson's play with all though those otherwise unobtainable toys is just too irresistible, particularly for Garrick. But, Colt has already begun to suspect his father's real motivations for buying all those things: the gifts Rex gives his children are not gifts from the heart, but really nothing more than bait, a way to attract kids to the house, but not so much to be friends with his sons as much as for himself. In fact, it doesn't take long before a creepy feeling begins to take hold of some of the boys who flock to the Jenson's to play.
Even the Kiley's father Joe senses something odd at a backyard barbecue that Rex has one evening, but can't quite put his finger on. But the boys have noticed things, though only Garrick seems really bothered by it and wants to exact some kind of angry revenge, especially after he realizes that Avery is on to the secret he is hiding.
Meanwhile, Freya Kiley has begun to suspect her mother might be pregnant again, the family just doesn't need a 7th child. Wondering why her parents got married in the first place, she soon discovers it was because of her. Now, feeling guilty that she is the cause of so much unhappiness for her parents, and subsequently for her siblings, she has become more aware of her parent's troubled marriage and has come up with a plan to make her father pay for it all. But, it requires the help of Rex Jenson.
Golden Boys is told mainly from the perspective of Colt and Freya. It is a character driven story, with each character playing her or his part to perfection to move the story along. As with all of Sonya Hartnett's novels, it is well written, well plotted and there is not a superfluous word on any of its 256 pages.
The novel is set in a time before cell phones and computers, so that the sense of isolation increased the tension that builds up over the course of novel. It is also set in Australia, beginning a few weeks before Christmas when it is summertime there. The setting makes no difference as far as the story is concerned, however. Golden Boys was marketed as an adult novel there, but as a YA novel in the US. I have to wonder why. The title, Golden Boys, has nothing to do with the bike on the American cover. The title refers to the athletic trophies Colt won at this old school and is a wonderful metaphor for how kids may sometimes feel when caught in the same situation as the boys in this novel.
Golden Boys is an emotionally-packed psychological novel for mature teens who have a better understanding of the themes Hartnett explores - how children inadvertently become complicit with their parent's behavior, accepting their shortcomings even as they realize them; how other adults can look the other way when another adult is behaving badly, i.e., Joe's physically violent behavior towards his family in a drunken rage and never calling the authorities, or Mrs. Jenson's obvious acceptance of her husband's pedophiliac behavior and looking the other way.
This is an excellently done novel and I would highly recommend it to mature readers, but it is definitely not for everyone.
This book is recommended for age 14+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley